For years now, teachers have tried to tailor instruction for children who learn best by seeing, hearing or touching, writes Daniel Willingham in American Educator’s Ask the Cognitive Scientist. Teaching a child in his favored learning modality doesn’t improve learning, however.
What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content’s best modality.
. . . For example, if students are to appreciate the appearance of a Mayan pyramid, it would be much more effective to view a picture than to hear a verbal description.
Many topics may call for information in more than one modality. In a unit on the Civil War, in addition to lectures and reading, it might be appropriate to include recordings of martial music used to inspire the troops, visual representations (maps) of battlefields, and perhaps a chance to handle the pack and equipment the troops carried so that students could appreciate their heft. Similarly, if students are to learn the form of an English sonnet, they should hear the stress forms of iambic pentameter, and then see a visual representation of it.
The meaning is what matters, writes Willingham.
There is no benefit to students in teachers’ attempting to find auditory presentations of the Mayan pyramids for the students who have good auditory memory. Everyone should see the picture.
Yet modality theory — now in the version of “multiple intelligences” — is widely accepted even though “there is no research evidence to support it.”
Willingham is recommended by University of Wisconsin Math Professor Dick Askey on School Information System.